Intrapersonal communication refers to communication phenomena that exist within or occur because of an individual’s self or mind. Some forms of intrapersonal communication can resemble a conversation one has with one’s self. This “self-talk” often is used as a way to help us make decisions or make sense of the world around us. Maybe you’ve gone to the grocery store, and you’re repeating your grocery list over and over in your head to make sure you don’t forget anything. Maybe at the end of the day, you keep a diary or journal where you keep track of everything that has happened that day. Or perhaps you’re having a debate inside your head on what major you should pick. You keep weighing the pros and cons of different majors, and you use this internal debate to help you flesh out your thoughts and feelings on the subject. All three of these examples help illustrate some of what is covered by the term “intrapersonal communication.”
Today scholars view the term “intrapersonal communication” a little more broadly than just the internal self-talk we engage in. Communication scholar Samuel Riccillo primarily discusses intrapersonal communication as a factor of biology.14 Under this perspective, we must think about the biological underpinnings of how we can communicate. The human brain is probably the single most crucial physiological part of human interactions. We know that how people communicate can be greatly impacted by their brains. As such, our definition of intrapersonal communication is broad enough to include both traditional discussions of self-talk and more modern examinations of how the human body helps or hinders our ability to communicate effectively.
Interpersonal communication, which is what this book is all about, focuses on the exchange of messages between two people. Our days are full of interpersonal communication. You wake up, roll over, and say good morning to your significant other, then you’ve had your first interpersonal interaction of the day. You meet your best friend for coffee before work and discuss the ins and outs of children’s lives; you’re engaging in interpersonal communication again. You go to work and collaborate with a coworker on a project; once again, you’re engaging in interpersonal communication. You then shoot off an email to your babysitter, reminding him to drop by the house at seven so you and your partner can have a night out. Yep, this is interpersonal communication, too. You drop by your doctor’s office for your annual physical, and the two of you talk about any health issues; this is also a form of interpersonal communication. You text your child to remind him that he has play practice at 5:00 pm and then needs to come home immediately afterward; you’ve engaged in interpersonal interaction. Hopefully, you’re beginning to realize that our days are filled with tons of interpersonal interactions.
Some scholars also refer to interpersonal communication as dyadic communication because it involves two people or a dyad. As you saw above, the type of dyad can range from intimate partners, to coworkers, to doctor-patient, to friends, to parent-child, and many other dyadic partnerships. We can engage in these interactions through verbal communication, nonverbal communication, and mediated communication. When we use words during our interaction to convey specific meaning, then we’re engaging in verbal communication. Nonverbal communication, on the other hand, refers to a range of other factors that can impact how we understand each other—for example, the facial expressions you have. You could be talking to your best friend over coffee about a coworker and “his problems” while rolling your eyes to emphasize how overly dramatic and nonsensical you find the person. A great deal of how we interpret the verbal message of someone is based on the nonverbal messages sent at the same time. Lastly, we engage in interpersonal interactions using mediated technologies like the cellphone, emailing, texts, Facebook posts, Tweets, etc. Your average professional spends a great deal of her day responding to emails that come from one person, so the email exchange is a form of interpersonal communication.
The next type of communication studied by communication scholars is small group communication. Although different scholars will differ on the exact number of people that make a group, we can say that a group is at least three people interacting with a common goal. Sometimes these groups could be as large as 15, but larger groups become much harder to manage and end up with more problems. One of the hallmarks of a small group is the ability for all the group members to engage in interpersonal interactions with all the other group members.
We engage in small groups throughout our lives. Chances are you’ve engaged in some kind of group project for a grade while you’ve been in school. This experience may have been a great one or a horrible one, depending on the personalities within the group, the ability of the group to accomplish the goal, the in-fighting of group members, and many other factors. Whether you like group work or not, you will engage in many groups (some effective and some ineffective) over your lifespan. We’re all born into a family, which is a specific type of group relationship. When you were younger, you may have been in play-groups. As you grew older, you had groups of friends you did things with. As you enter into the professional world, you will probably be on some kind of work “team,” which is just a specialized type of group. In other words, group communication is a part of life.
The next category of communication is called public communication. Public communication occurs when an individual or group of individuals sends a specific message to an audience. This one-to-many way of communicating is often necessary when groups become too large to maintain interactions with all group members. One of the most common forms of public communication is public speaking. As I am writing this chapter, we are right in the middle of the primary season for the 2020 Presidential election. People of all political stripes have been attending candidate speeches in record-breaking numbers this year.
The size of the audience one speaks to will impact how someone delivers a speech. If you’re giving a speech to ten people, you’ll have the ability to watch all of your audience members and receive real-time feedback as people nod their heads in agreement or disagreement. On the other hand, if you’re speaking to 10,000+ people at once, a speaker cannot watch all of their audience members and get feedback. With a smaller audience, a speaker can adapt their message on the fly as they interpret audience feedback. With a larger audience, a speaker is more likely to deliver a very prepared speech that does not alter based on individual audience members’ feedback. Although this book is not a public speaking book, we would recommend that anyone take a public speaking class, because it’s such an essential and valuable skill in the 21st Century. As we are bombarded with more and more messages, being an effective speaker is more important today than ever before.
The final type of communication is mediated communication, or the use of some form of technology to facilitate information between two or more people. We already mentioned a few forms of mediated communication when we talked about interpersonal communication: phone calls, emails, text messaging, etc. In each of these cases, mediated technology is utilized to facilitate the share of information between two people.
Most mediated communication occurs because technology functions as the link between someone sending information and someone receiving information. For example, you go online and look up the statistics from last night’s baseball game. The website you choose is the link between you and the reporter who authored the information. In the same way, if you looked up these same results in a newspaper, the newspaper would be the link between you and the reporter who wrote the article. The technology may have changed from print to electronic journalism, but the basic concept is still very much alive.
Today we are surrounded by a ton of different media options. Some common examples include cable, satellite television, the World Wide Web, content streaming services (i.e., Netflix, Hulu, etc.), social media, magazines, voice over internet protocol (VoIP – Skype, Google Hangouts, etc.), and many others. We have more forms of mediated communication today than we have ever had before in history. Most of us will only experience and use a fraction of the mediated communication technologies that are available for us today.